The Resurrections and Eternal Judgment

We believe that the only hope of eternal life for mortal humans lies in the resurrection through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We believe that at the return of Jesus Christ a resurrection to spirit life will take place for all who have been God's faithful servants. We believe that after Jesus Christ has ruled on earth for 1,000 years there will be a resurrection to physical life of the vast majority of all people who have ever lived. We believe that, after these people have had an opportunity to live a physical life if they become converted they, too, will receive eternal life. We also believe that those who reject God's offer of salvation will reap eternal death.

The teachings on the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment are listed as two of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity leading to perfection and eternal life (Hebrews 6:1-2). Without the resurrection of the dead, Christ would not be risen and our faith would be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Human beings are mortal, with no inherent immortality. Furthermore, man is incapable of giving eternal life to himself —thus necessitating a resurrection. Moreover, we must understand that God is the final Judge and determiner of a person's eternal fate.

The Bible makes clear that there is no conscious awareness in death (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; Psalm 6:5). Death is repeatedly compared in the Bible to sleep (Job 3:11-17; 14:10-12; Psalm 13:3; Isaiah 57:1-2; Daniel 12:2; John 11:11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:14). No conscious immortal soul leaves the body at the moment of death, whether to go to dwell in bliss in heaven or to suffer unending torment in hellfire. (See the chapter titled Humanity.) These concepts come from false pagan religion and a misreading of Scripture.

We find in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection is the hope of all mankind. Resurrection means a raising up or rising. Biblically, it refers to the raising of the dead to life again. The Scriptures teach the resurrection of "all who are in the graves" (John 5:28), but there is an order in which all the dead will be resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:23-24). The Bible reveals that some will be resurrected to everlasting life and others are to be sentenced to eternal death (Daniel 12:2-3; Revelation 20:13-15).

Resurrections are possible because God has the ability to give life. God, through the One called the Word, who became Jesus Christ, gave life to the first man, Adam. Jesus has the same power to give life to a human being a second time (John 5:21; 6:44, 54). Both the Father and the Son have life within themselves (John 5:26).

This inherent power of God can produce both physical and spirit life. God has power to resurrect one from the grave in physical or spirit form (1 Corinthians 15:35-38). Indeed, God has demonstrated that He has the power to resurrect to physical life (John 11:43-44; Matthew 27:52-53) and to spiritual life (Matthew 28:6-7).

Resurrections are also possible because Christ Himself has been raised (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). His resurrection as a living Savior made possible the salvation of all people. Thus, mankind would die and perish forever were it not for Christ's resurrection (Romans 5:10; 1 Corinthians 15:26, 55).

God's plan for mankind's salvation requires the resurrection of all who die (John 5:28). The apostle John referred to three resurrections in Revelation 20—one to eternal life (verses 4-6), one to physical life (verses 11-12) and one to death in the lake of fire (verses 13-15). (Although the last verses cited here do not mention a resurrection specifically, the incorrigibly wicked of past ages, who have rejected God's offer for salvation, will need to be resurrected to be cast into the lake of fire.) Let's consider each of these in turn.

The first resurrection is called by that name: "...They lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years...Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:4-6).

This resurrection will take place at the second coming of Christ when the righteous dead will be resurrected to immortality (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). Called "the resurrection of life" in John 5:29, it is also referred to as a "better resurrection" (Hebrews 11:35) because it is to immortality and rulership with Christ during the Millennium.

Then Christ "will reward each according to his works" (Matthew 16:27). While salvation itself is a free gift of God not based on works, one's works demonstrate how much a person has grown in God's way of life and will be a factor in determining each person's degree of responsibility in God's Kingdom (see Matthew 25:14-30; Matthew 19:11-27).

The second resurrection will take place at the end of the 1,000-year reign of Christ and the saints. "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished" (Revelation 20:5).

This resurrection, also known as the general resurrection or Great White Throne Judgment (see verse 11), is further described in verse 12: "And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened [evidently meaning the books of the Bible now opened to their understanding]. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life [meaning opportunity for being listed with the saved]. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books." That is, they are evaluated over time—according to how they live by what they then learn—not instantly condemned.

John 5:29 calls this "a resurrection of judgment"—not "of condemnation," as some Bible versions render the words here.

The Judge here and in all such judgment, it should be mentioned, is Christ: "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son" (John 5:22). This is because Jesus experienced life as a human being (verse 27; Hebrews 4:15).

The second resurrection is a resurrection back to physical life (see Ezekiel 37:1-14). It will include the vast majority of all people who have ever lived—people who never knew God and His great purpose for them. It will be an exciting time when billions of people from all periods of history will come back to life (Matthew 11:20-24; 12:41-42).

While these people will have a second opportunity for physical life at this time, it will be their first opportunity for salvation and glorious immortality in God's family. They will be given ample time for learning and growing in God's way of life. Truly, God's plan includes everyone. He is not willing for any to perish but that all should come to repentance and salvation (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). Yet some, even with sufficient understanding and opportunity, will still refuse to comply.

The third resurrection will take place near the conclusion of God's revealed plan for mankind. This will be a resurrection to physical life of all those throughout past ages who, though fully aware of God's truth and purpose, have willfully chosen to reject His offer of eternal life.

They will be brought back to be justly punished by death in the lake of fire along with those who are unrepentant at the end of the second resurrection period. "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire . . . which is the second death" (Revelation 20:15; 21:8; see also Hebrews 10:26-29; 2 Peter 3:10-12).

This is not a presently burning place of torment, but a fire that will burn on the earth in the future for only a time. As mentioned, our loving God gives everyone an opportunity to have eternal life and wishes no one to perish. But if people ultimately refuse to repent, the punishment is the second death—utter annihilation through incineration, ending their lives and existence quickly and forever (Malachi 4:1, 3; Matthew 10:28; 25:46).

This is an eternal judgment and punishment—not because the torment goes on forever, as it certainly does not, but because the effects of the punishment are permanent. Those who die the second death will forever remain dead, having no possibility of a subsequent resurrection.

The three resurrections reveal the order of God's awe-inspiring plan for all humanity. "It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27), and that requires a resurrection for everyone who has ever lived.

For more details, read What Happens After Death?, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind.


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